Why Turkey, PKK Seek Rapprochement

Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan called on his followers to lay down their arms in late February in a crucial step toward rapprochement with the Turkish government. Wikistrat asked Dr. Soner Cagaptay what the motivations of both parties are to do a deal.


Turkey’s Plan A on the Kurdish issue is to placate the PKK, an approach solidified in 2012 when Recep Tayyip Erdoğan launched official peace talks with the group’s leadership, bringing about a respite from fighting. Maintaining this peace is especially important for Erdoğan’s AKP, which has been running the country since 2002 and faces parliamentary elections in June. If Turkey remains peaceful, the popular AKP will likely soar to another electoral victory. With no other elections until 2019, Erdoğan and the AKP would rule Turkey until the end of the decade.

Peace is a strong incentive for Abdullah Öcalan, the PKK’s founder and ideological leader, who is effectively conducting the PKK’s side of the talks through his lawyers from his solitary-confinement cell on İmralı island, in the Marmara Sea, where he has been jailed since 1999. As indicated by his role in the talks, Öcalan still wields strong influence over the PKK and he well understands that peace would be his get-out-of-jail card. He is therefore expected to continue using his influence to ensure the current calm.

Dr. Soner Cagaptay is a Wikistrat Expert. He has more than ten years of experience in academia and of professional work dealing with Turkey, the Balkans and other international issues. He is also a Senior Fellow and Director at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Turkey Research Program.

New Wikistrat Simulation: Greece Exits the Eurozone

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Wikistrat launches a new, week-long simulation today to explore the consequences of a potential Greek exit from the eurozone.

The January 25 election brought the “hard-left” Syriza party to power in Greece. It immediately had to renegotiate the conditions of the country’s bailout. The new government, elected on an anti-austerity platform, vowed to bypass the “troika” (the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF), demand debt forgiveness and roll back spending cuts. At the same time, neither the government nor Greek voters wanted to leave the euro or the EU.

Germany and Greece’s other eurozone creditors would not accept Syriza’s demands. Rather, they agreed to a four-month extension of the bailout under which Greece is required to continue labor and tax reforms as well as privatizations in exchange for continued financial support. Presumably, there will be a standoff again when the four-month extension runs out.

Neither side won this time, but there was a truce. As in earlier stages of the Greek sovereign debt crisis, Germany’s and the ECB’s firm commitment to cohesion and stability, and their fear of cataclysmic market volatility, trumped the economic rationale for an orderly Greek exit.

What if, in the next few months and year, Greece requires further support and that calculation changes? What would be the effects of a Greek Eurozone exit?

This simulation is designed to find out! Read More →

New Wikistrat Simulation: Confronting Libya’s Turmoil

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Today, Wikistrat launches a 48-hour speed simulation in which analysts are asked to design policy options for Libya’s neighbors, Arab Gulf states, the European Union and the United States to confront the tumultuous situation in the country.

More than three years after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) is taking advantage of the political chaos in Libya, stepping up attacks and establishing strongholds there. Recently, ISIS fighters were shown beheading 21 Egyptian Christians on a Libyan beach; the group also claimed responsibility for a bombing that killed at least 35 in the city of Qubba.

Libya has grown increasingly unstable over the last year due to violence among competing militias and rivalry between two separate governments: the internationally-recognized, Tobruk-based government led by Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Thinni, and the Islamist-sympathetic government led by Omar Al-Hassi out of Tripoli.

Reports indicate that ISIS militants have established a base in the city of Derna, where Egypt carried out airstrikes following the execution of the Coptic hostages. Two million Egyptians live in Libya, but many have begun returning home as the situation deteriorates.

Some residents say ISIS is levying taxes and setting up courts in Derna. The group has also seized a university in Sirte, and videos circulate on social media show ISIS troops patrolling the streets there.

The number of ISIS fighters currently in Libya is unclear, but reports indicate that members of local Islamist militias are defecting to ISIS ranks.

The foreign minister of Libya’s internationally recognized government, Mohamed Dayri, told U.S. officials in Washington that his government needs immediate military assistance to deal with the situation. But the U.S. is reluctant to provide aid until a government of national unity is formed.

Meanwhile, Qatar has recalled its ambassador from Egypt to protest its intervention in Libya. The Gulf Cooperation Council, however, has given its full support to Egypt, issuing a statement that said it backed Cairo in “fighting terrorism and protecting its citizens at home and abroad.”

The Qatari government supports the Fajr Libya (Libya Dawn) Islamist alliance in Tripoli, while the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have joined Egypt in supporting the recognized government in Tobruk and its main military backer, General Khalifa Haftar.

The current challenge is to combine the efforts of interested countries to prevent ISIS from gaining further control of Libya and ensuring the extremist organization does not spread into other North African states like Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria.

Are you interested in participating in simulations like these? Apply for membership to the analytic community here.

Stay tuned to Wikistrat’s Facebook and Twitter channels for updates and insights from this simulation!

New Wikistrat Simulation: Ukraine in 2020

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Earlier this week, Wikistrat launched a new crowdsourced simulation to look beyond the immediate political issues affecting Ukraine and consider what the country’s geostrategic position might be in the year 2020.

At present, Ukraine faces a Russian-instigated and -supported insurgency in its southeast, the loss of Crimea, an economy in crisis, and a government divided and often unprepared for rule. An oligarchic elite is seeking to preserve its power and prosperity, radicals are growing impatient with the slow pace of reform, nationalists are advocating a tougher line with the culturally Russian population, the country remains heavily dependent on Russian energy and markets, and optimistic dreams of a rapid shift toward integration with the European Union are fading.

Nevertheless, Russia’s determination to try to forestall any westward drift and the West’s determination to punish Moscow for its meddling underline one basic point: Ukraine matters. Will it be the prize that Moscow manages comprehensively and conclusively to return to its sphere of influence — a rather more useful and reliable neighbor than Belarus — or will it instead grow closer to the West, bringing the prospect of expanding “Europe” up to the Ural watershed closer? Might it, as Moscow fears, ever become a NATO state on its southern flank? Or will it instead find some place between Russia and Europe, friend of both, client of neither?

In this context, the question is not only what Ukraine can do to shape its future over the next five years — years which will inevitably be difficult — but also what options external actors have to influence the country’s evolving relationships.

These are the issues Wikistrat’s analysts will be exploring over the next two weeks. Read More →

Ask a Senior Analyst — David Isenberg

Wikistrat’s Facebook and Twitter followers recently engaged in a 24-hour exclusive Q&A session with one of Wikistrat’s Senior Analysts, David Isenberg. Questions and Mr. Isenberg’s answers are transcribed below.

David Isenberg

David Isenberg is the author of Shadow Force: Private Security Contractors in Iraq. He blogs at the Isenberg Institute of Strategic Satire. He wrote the “Dogs of War” weekly column for UPI from 2008 to 2009. During 2009 he ran the Norwegian Initiative on Small Arms Transfers project at the International Peace Research Institute, Oslo. He also worked for the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR). He is a U.S. Navy veteran.

Matt R. Batten-Carew: What is your opinion on the potential use of private military contractors as peacekeeping forces by the United Nations? Given a comprehensive code of conduct, clear rules of engagement, and adequate oversight, could these private actors play a role in future peacekeeping operations?

Answer: You have a couple of questions here: Can contractors play a role in peacekeeping operations? And can contractors serve as peacekeeping troops?

In regard to the former question, contractors are already playing a significant role in terms of proving logistics for peacekeeping operations. In regard to the latter question, it is very important to keep in mind the distinction between peacekeeping and peace enforcement. The first, while dangerous, is far less demanding than the second. In my opinion, contractors can conceivably play a role as peacekeeping troops, albeit more as combat support or combat service support roles.

At this point contractors are not likely to replace sizeable formations of state forces, especially not in peace enforcement operations. People like Blackwater co-founder Erik Prince claim that contractors could be used to fight ISIS. That is outlandish. What companies like Blackwater did in Iraq was protective security, not combat.

What private military companies can do is supply force multipliers, notably in the area of training or logistics. Read More →

Hezbollah’s Future Position in Lebanon: Wikistrat Report

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Hezbollah has seen a dramatic change in its positioning and its neighborhood over the past few years, both in Lebanon and regionally. The group has become openly involved in the Syrian conflict, both to protect its strong historical and political partnership with the Assad regime, as well as to further the interests of its main patron Iran.

As the organization becomes more entangled in Syria, it also faces growing internal challenges, both because of Lebanon’s political paralysis and due to the rising threat posed by Salafi-jihadist groups like ISIS.

In light of Hezbollah’s turbulent situation, Wikistrat conducted a three-day crowdsourced simulation to look into its uncertain future, examining its main internal and external drivers of change — as well as their likely impacts on Hezbollah’s evolution and its future role in Lebanon. Read More →

Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis’s Oath of Allegiance to the Islamic State: Wikistrat Report

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Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis (ABM), notorious for its attacks on Egyptian security forces and religious minorities, and for utilizing brutal methods such as beheadings, has pledged its allegiance to the self-proclaimed caliphate known as the Islamic State (IS).

Although this development might seem to have created an opportunity for the United States and other international actors to press Cairo for policy reforms, the opposite is likely the case. The Egyptian government probably sees ABM’s allegiance to IS as a vindication of its counterterrorism policy for several reasons: The pledge creates rifts within ABM, makes ABM appear more brutal (thus alienating it from the Egyptian population), and bolsters the perception that Egypt’s harsh counterterrorism methods are justified.

What is the recent history of jihadism in the Sinai Peninsula? What are the links between ABM, Al-Qaeda and IS? And what are the implications of ABM’s pledge of allegiance to IS?

This Wikistrat report, written by Senior Analyst Dr. Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, answers those questions. Read More →

Ask a Senior Analyst — Tim Foxley

Wikistrat’s Facebook and Twitter followers recently engaged in a 24-hour exclusive Q&A session with one of Wikistrat’s Senior Analysts, Tim Foxley. Questions and Mr. Foxley’s answers are transcribed below.

Tim FoxleyTim Foxley is an independent political and military analyst. He worked for the British government for over twenty-five years with experience in Afghanistan, the Balkans, Russia and Eastern Europe. He has analyzed various inter- and intra-national conflict themes, including terrorism, arms control, insurgencies, information operations, propaganda and conflict and security building measures. He also worked as a guest researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), studying Afghanistan and related political, social and economic themes.

Harry Sa: Do you see any regional players getting more involved in the rebuilding process and maintaining stability in Afghanistan? What kinds of roles would they play?

Answer: It is a good question that I have been grappling with for some time. I produced a paper in 2010 entitled “Afghanistan’s Neighbours: Great Game, Regional Approach or Limited Liability Opportunism?” on this topic.

In the limited space I have available here, perhaps I could race through a few updated “headlines” for the key neighbours.

A recurring theme has been the unexploited but massive economic potential in and around Afghanistan. “New Silk Road” studies regularly point at trillions of dollars of minerals, gem, natural resources, transport and trade opportunities. Every time this gets publicity, it seems to come to nothing as a result of security and corruption issues.

Pakistan has a confused and conflicted relationship with Afghanistan. The assertion by many analysts is that Pakistan is engaged in a “double game.” Pakistan seeks a passive “client” state that has polices favourable to it. To preserve all options, Pakistan is covertly retaining links with, and providing support to, the Taliban. There has been some small-scale economic and political reach-out, but the border between the two countries is fluid, allowing insurgents of all sorts to come and go and smuggling to bypass regular trade, tax and economic process. Until the two countries sort out their security issues, their relationship will be fraught. Development and stability opportunities will underachieve for the next few years.

Iran remains concerned about instability in Afghanistan leading to more refugees coming to Iran. Its engagement with Afghanistan has been a mix of constructive — certainly investment and reconstruction, including a railway, in western Afghanistan — and unhelpful. NATO has complained quite bluntly about weapons and IED technology coming in from Iran and ending up in the hands of insurgents, although this might slacken now NATO has more or less gone.

China has managed to stay out of the conflict (although it is worried about the risk that insurgencies might spill across), but snaps up investment opportunities where it can, desiring the trade and natural resources that Afghanistan (and Central Asia) offer. China has invested heavily: the Afghan government received around $3 billion for the Aynak copper mine. This month, China seemed to be trying to broker talks between the Taliban, Pakistan and Afghanistan, suggesting new interest in the security side.

Crudely summarising the others: the Central Asian States will have limited impact. India will continue to invest heavily and provoke Pakistan as it does so. Read More →

Podcast Episode 2: Ebola — A Global Health Challenge

Today, Wikistrat’s Senior Analyst Prof. Randy Cheek sits down with Geostrategy Radio to discuss insights from Wikistrat’s “Ebola: A Global Health Challenge” simulation.

West Africa’s Ebola epidemic could have a silver lining if global leaders have the wisdom and courage to act. This is a strategic opportunity to replace the existing reactive, ad hoc global health response system with a more proactive, targeted response to outbreaks of infectious disease.

In this episode of Wikistrat’s Geostrategy Radio podcast, Prof. Cheek discusses this and other insights from the recently-conducted “Ebola: A Global Health Challenge” simulation.

Professor Randy Cheek is the former Director for Central Africa at the Africa Bureau of the Department of Defense. He is an expert on African security and a Wikistrat Senior Analyst.

Click here to access the summary report from the “Ebola: A Global Health Challenge” simulation.

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Ask Wikistrat Staff — Dr. Shay Hershkovitz

Wikistrat’s Facebook and Twitter followers recently engaged in a 24-hour exclusive Q&A session with the Director of Wikistrat’s Analytic Community, Dr. Shay Hershkovitz. Questions and Dr. Hershkovitz’s answers are transcribed below.

Shay Hershkovitz

As Director of the Analytic Community, Dr. Shay Hershkovitz oversees and guides the activity of Wikistrat’s ever-expanding network of experts and he is involved in the development of Wikistrat’s methodology and product offerings.

A former senior intelligence officer, Dr. Hershkovitz has accumulated experience in analysis of complex security and political environments. He also has a specialization in political analysis — particularly that which pertains to the Middle East. He earned a PhD in Political Science and lectured at several colleges and universities, specializing in consumer culture, globalization and political theory.

Before joining Wikistrat, Dr. Hershkovitz operated a boutique consultancy specializing in competitive intelligence analysis and developed unique methodologies for business war-games.

Matt R. Batten-Carew: I’m in the process of completing my second Master’s and during my studies I have met many people who have been interested in becoming involved with Wikistrat. Does Wikistrat currently run any regular recruitment partnerships with universities? If not, is this something that might be possible in the future?

Answer: Wikistrat has and will continue to work with universities from around the world to complement a wide variety of initiatives. Specifically in regard to recruitment, we are looking for potential analysts with significant academic and professional experience. To that end, directly targeting individuals in the upper levels of study or in teaching has been more beneficial for our goals than casting a wide net. That said, we are always looking for new opportunities to improve our work and remain open to developing connections with universities, honor societies and alumni networks to ensure that qualified candidates are aware of what we offer.

Christoph Unrast: How could Wikistrat utilize that its analysts are participating from different time zones?

Answer: Wikistrat already utilizes the fact that its analysts are participating in activities from different time zones. It enables round-the-clock coverage and significantly cuts down production time, something that is especially important in client projects. In addition, different time zones minimize periods of low activity in the community network, thus increasing the interactivity of Wikistrat’s various features.